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Is the UFC Helping or Hurting Amateur Wrestling?

With the lucrative UFC success of former NCAA national champion wrestler Brock Lesnar, you'd think kids dreaming of UFC success would be lining up to learn how to wrestle.
With the lucrative UFC success of former NCAA national champion wrestler Brock Lesnar, you'd think kids dreaming of UFC success would be lining up to learn how to wrestle.

By way of Fight Opinion come two stories from local newspapers that present diametrically opposed viewpoints on the question of whether or not the booming popularity of the UFC is helping or hurting high school and college wrestling programs. Here's The Yuma Sun, Cain Velasquez' hometown paper, with the "you kids get off my lawn" version:

What it hasn't generated is a lot of excitement for the sport of wrestling.

Marty Dillon, a former wrestling coach at Kofa, said that while a lot of the students have come to follow (Cain) Velasquez and his mixed martial arts career, very few see the connection between his success in UFC and his work on the wrestling mat.

"I know how important of a figure (Velasquez) was. Obviously, the majority of his life is a wrestling background. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years ... wrestling has been a very, very hard sell to these kids. Far too many kids don't see the connection between wrestling and the UFC. They don't see it, they don't care."

During his past few years as the Kings coach, Dillon struggled with keeping a good headcount on his roster. He still managed to develop championship-caliber wrestlers, they were just fewer than in previous years.

What contributed to that was the upstart of numerous MMA gyms in the area. Dillon explained how one of his wrestlers quit the team to go train at one of those gyms.

"He couldn't withstand the practices or the discipline," Dillon said. "There's no requirement of grades when you walk down the street. When you don't show up, there's no rules, there's no consequences. It's not a Cain thing or a Brock Lesnar thing ... It's just becoming built into our culture."

The 17-year-old Davalos explained how rigorous his training regimen was, saying that he would arrive at the gym every day at 2 p.m. and stay until 8:30.

He likes the environment better and how he's treated like an equal at the club, something that wasn't the case on the Kofa team.

"In wrestling (the coaches) were constantly on my case," Davalos said. "Over here, it's more laid back."

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune gives the "hey man, it's all good" case:

When Division I football coaches called, Joel Bauman listened. But the sport didn't fit into his plan -- to become the greatest fighter in the world.

So Bauman, who rushed for 2,941 yards as a high school junior at Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg in west-central Minnesota in 2008, pursued his other love -- wrestling.

The Gophers freshman, a two-time prep state champion, would love to earn a few titles in college, but he ultimately chose the sport because he said he believes it will prepare him for a career in mixed martial arts (MMA).

It's a familiar path through an expanding pipeline for Minnesota-based wrestlers who strive to emulate the success of former Gophers star and current Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar.

"It's really cool because it just gives you hope that there's something out there," Bauman said about Lesnar's accomplishments in MMA. "I love wrestling and it's my passion, but in the back of my mind I always have, 'Be the best fighter, be the best fighter.'"

I'm going to come down on the UFC/MMA is helping sustain amateur wrestling side of the scales but it's easy to see where a high school wrestling coach like Marty Dillon could feel like he's trying to keep a drowning sport afloat. With Title IX and ever shrinking state budgets mounting an unrelenting assault on college wrestling programs nation-wide he's got to feel like he's fighting the tides of time. I just think he's mistaking the buoy of MMA for yet another rock bashing him in the head.